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Brilliant but sobering read.
on 14 October 2002
October 1973. The Yom Kippur War.
Few people will be ignorant of this conflict when Egypt and Syria carried out their surprise attack upon the Israelis at the most Holy time in the Jewish calendar, when the Israeli forces were at their most vulnerable due to religious observance.
As I had just begun my own military training in my own country, I remember wondering if the conflict would expand and include our own military due to the sabre-rattling of the super-powers as the Israelis turned initial defeat into eventual victory.
I have read a number of accounts of that historic conflict since then, but few come close to this account by Major General Chaim Herzog.
It's recent re-release is most welcome. The author's articulate and extremely well written record and analysis is a worthy addition to anyone's library. Some might find it controversial and expect it to be biased due to the author's own nationality. I did not find this.
Instead I found this to be a brilliant account of unbelievable bravery in the face of heavily outnumbered forces, self-sacrifice and incredible counter-attacks. The author describes how early Egyptian and Syrian advances which threatened the very existence of the Jewish state, were thwarted and repulsed. Advances that subsequently turned into a retreat which saw Israeli forces within artillery range of the Syrian capital Damascus and well on the road to the Egyptian capital Cairo.
This is not all about the 'glamour and glory' of an Israeli victory. Far from it. It endeavours to tell the real story, as much as possible the full story of the war with all it's successes, omissions and failures. It is also the story of a people in possibly their greatest hour of challenge in present day history.
The Arab media had promised it's masses that the entire Israeli population, men, women and children, would be subject to destruction and annihilation in the most brutal manner. With the horrors of the holocaust being only recent memories, those Israelis who took these threats seriously must have been horrified.
The outset of the war and initial Israeli losses have been subject to a variety of claims surrounding poor intelligence etc.. The impotence of the UN and the super-powers in preventing this conflict is there for all to see, as is the shadow of a potential nuclear catastrophe resulting from the super-powers' involvement towards the end. Notable is the fact that whilst the Egyptian and Syrian attacks were in full swing, there was little movement towards enforcing any ceasefire. Yet when the roles were reversed, the world bent over backwards to ensure a ceasefire was adhered to.
It is also notable that Chaim Herzog, even a quarter of a century ago, makes reference in this book to the phased plan of the Arab nations towards destroying Israel involving an initial withdrawal by the Jewish state to the 1967 borders.
(Ring any bells pertaining to present day politics ?)
Notably also is the authors remarks of that time to the effect that the civilian populations in the region will become exposed to no less a degree than the military forces in any future war. We need only look around us now to see the veracity in his remarks.
Read this book to see what, if any lessons have been learnt by either side, and how the world reacted at different stages of the conflict. It is a sobering read and will open your eyes, not only to the military situation in the Middle East in 1973, but to the attitude of the nations and a present day scenario which threatens similar conflicts in the future.